Depression remains the most common mental illness in adults in the U.S. However, many adults tend to forget that depression and other mental illnesses may occur in teenagers as well as children. Often, parents and authoritative figures disregard depressive symptoms as a natural part of adolescence. In reality, the symptoms of depression in teens can be clear indicators of serious, potentially harmful consequences. As a result, parents need to understand teen depression, its signs and symptoms, and how its treatment differs from the depression of adults.
What is Teen Depression?
Just like adult depression, teen depression refers to the irrational, chronic sensations of being incapable of feeling happy or fulfilled. Some degree of unhappiness will likely be experienced by all teenagers, especially teenagers who have encounter trauma, stressful situations, or other mental health disorders, but “normal” sadness should not be mistaken with depression. In some cases, the feelings of sadness may last for weeks, months, seasons or even years.
Many factors increase the risk of developing or triggering teen depression, including:
- Having issues that negatively impact self-esteem, such as obesity, peer problems, long-term bullying or academic problems
- Having been the victim or witness of violence, such as physical or sexual abuse
- Having other conditions, such as bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder, a personality disorder, anorexia or bulimia
- Having a learning disability or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Having ongoing pain or a chronic physical illness such as cancer, diabetes or asthma
- Having a physical disability
- Having certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem or being overly dependent, self-critical or pessimistic
- Abusing alcohol, nicotine or other drugs
- Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in an unsupported environment
What are the effects of depression?
Depression has many different and powerful effects on people who have it and it also affects the people around them.
- Impact school and work performance
- Influence a teen’s ability to make and keep friends
- Make relationships with family members stressful
- Affect physical health
- Result in being more tempted to turn to alcohol, drugs, or sex as a way to escape from difficult feelings
- Make your teen feel extremely irritable, causing yelling and arguing
- Cause problems with staying focused, which can lead to car accidents and other serious mistakes
- Lead to serious injury and even suicide if left untreated
Facing the Danger Of Teen Suicide
Sometimes teens feel so depressed that they consider ending their lives. Each year, almost 5,000 young people, ages 15 to 24, kill themselves. The rate of suicide for this age group has nearly tripled since 1960, making it the third leading cause of death in adolescents and the second leading cause of death among college-age youth.
Studies show that suicide attempts among young people may be based on long-standing problems triggered by a specific event. Suicidal adolescents may view a temporary situation as a permanent condition. Feelings of anger and resentment combined with exaggerated guilt can lead to impulsive, self-destructive acts.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Teens?
Teen depression symptoms are closely similar to the depression symptoms as adults. These includes feelings of sadness, emptiness, anger, hopelessness and a general disinterest. However, the symptoms of teen depression may be the exact opposite of those an adult would experience. Depressed teens may experience periods of extreme happiness or euphoria, especially when taking and abusing substances to cope with symptoms.
Parents must also understand that depression is not caused by something the teen did wrong. Depression may occur after experiencing a trauma, loss or unpleasant experience. The key to identifying the difference between typical sadness and ongoing depression is noticing when a teen does not return to normal after several weeks. Because depression may last for weeks or months, family members and authoritative figures should watch for the signs of depression in teens.
The signs and symptoms of teen depression can be difficult to recognize. Teenagers may be unwilling to share thoughts or feelings with adults. Additionally, teens may be more likely to go to friends for help before speaking with an adult. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, those with teen depression typically experience the following symptoms on a daily basis:
- Unusual anger, hostility, cranky mood, or frustratio
However, teen depression may also be exhibited in several other ways, which include the following:
- Experiencing difficulty remembering information for school or work, having trouble concentrating, or being unable to make decisions
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Excessive lethargy, or sleeping in excess
- Acting or speaking slower than usual
- Acting or speaking faster than usual
- Insomnia, staying awake for extended periods or being unable to sleep without medication.
- Pronounced weight fluctuations
- Not obtaining pleasure from activities or things that were once enjoyed, school clubs, sports or other extracurricular activities.
Treatment for Teenage Depression
Antidepressant medications, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are commonly used to treat teen depression. However, psychotherapy in conjunction with medication antidepressant therapy is most effective in treating teen depression, reports the National Institute on Mental Health. Additionally, teen group therapy is very effective in helping teens learn how to manage and cope with stresses that contribute to depression.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, in private or group sessions, can also help teenagers identify how irrational thought processes are formed and multiply within the mind. As a result, teens can learn how to stop irrational thought processes and improve their quality of life.
How to Identify and Respond to Teen Depression
Teen depression is often misunderstood or mistaken for changes in hormones as an adolescent transitions into adulthood. As teenagers assert individuality and attempt to fit in with peers, the risk for depression among teenagers increases. In the last 10 years, the rate of teen depression has increased to more than 11 percent. Additionally, 4.8 percent of those with teen depression suffer from moderate to severe forms of depression, which may include symptoms of suicidal thoughts or actions. As a result, parents need to know how to recognize and manage depression in teens.
Teenage Depression Treatment
Teenage depression is slightly more complicated than adult depression. Teenagers are in the midst of developing interpersonal, social and critical thinking skills. As a result, depression may influence how teenagers act and develop. Furthermore, teens with depression should be encouraged to get a set amount of daily exercise, plenty of sleep, spend time outdoors and eat a healthy diet, reports the National Institute on Mental Health.
Teens should also speak with school counselors, supportive family members and friends. These activities are technically forms of group therapy, and they are essential in effective teenage depression treatment. Medication treatment and psychotherapy in combination are considered to be the best combination for effective management of teenage depression.
Recovering from Depression
Overcoming depression can take time, especially if your child has had it for a while. Keep giving your child as much support as you can, even during the difficult times.
The recovery process will usually involve some ups and downs. Many young people who experience an episode of depression will have another episode, or experience some symptoms again in the future.
You play an important role in helping your child to avoid things that might trigger another episode of depression. It’s also important to be on the lookout for warning signs you’ve seen before. These might indicate a relapse.
A Key Consideration for Depression Treatment in Teens
Historically, antidepressants could be dangerous when taken in overdose, and giving someone who may be suicidal medications that could be fatal was avoided at all costs. Eventually, medical professionals created a new class of antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are not as dangerous. Unfortunately, the increased use of SSRIs had led to an increased concern about their safety for use in young adults and teenagers.
Some teenagers who do not follow the recommended dosage can experience severe suicidal thoughts. When an antidepressant treatment medication is used for teen depression, family members, peers and other appropriate parties need to understand that the medications should not be discontinued abruptly or changed dramatically when outside of an inpatient teenage depression treatment facility. Failure to do so could be fatal.
Teen depression is similar, but not identical, to depression in adults. By understanding differences and the proper way to use antidepressants, parents, guardians, and friends can take steps to help guarantee the safety of teens with depression.